How to Lose Weight on a Plant-Based Diet and Keep the Weight OFF!

Written by Dr. Jonathan Peterson, Updated on April 14th, 2024, Published on July 6th, 2021

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Many people in the US are actively trying to lose weight – some polls put the number at over 50%. And more Americans than ever before are overweight or obese, too, so that stands to reason.

And millions of us are trying to improve our health, and our ethical interactions with our planet, by switching to a plant-based diet. So it also stands to reason that a large and growing number of Americans are trying to lose weight on a plant-based diet.

And it’s definitely possible to do that. But many newly-minted vegans are discovering through trial and error that it’s not something automatic. As good as a plant-based diet may usually be for your health and as good as it is for your conscience, it’s not a given – not at all – that just going vegan, in and of itself, will lead to weight loss.

Just Going Vegan or Plant-Based Will Not Cause Automatic Weight Loss

Most salted corn chips and potato chips in the snack food aisle at your local grocery store are vegan. And a huge percentage of mints and Twizzlers and other candies -- and Oreos and vanilla wafers and other cookies – are technically vegan, too. French fries and onion rings and many other deep-fried vegetables are also almost always 100% vegan. But I can definitely guarantee you that a consistent diet of plates heaped with fries, with Oreos and chips and candy on the side, is not going to be the healthiest diet around, and it also, for sure, will not lead to weight loss – quite the opposite, in fact.

Other vegan options that can lead to weight gain are bagged, processed “veggie snacks,” and faux hot dogs and burgers and “chick patties” or crumbles or made with vegan ingredients.

What’s the one thing all of these weight-gaining vegan foods have in common? Calorie density, mainly from the presence of processed oils, and in some cases from super-high percentages of simple sugars.

Simple sugars are what make candies and sodas and cookies taste sweet. But they are processed foods, as opposed to natural foods. They include white cane sugar, dextrose, fructose, and high fructose corn syrup – though some cagey manufacturers show them in the ingredients list under less recognizable names. Being processed, they have had nearly all the more complex carbohydrates (which get needed sugar into your bloodstream in a slower, more healthy way), fibers, vitamins, and trace minerals removed. These simple sugars go directly, like a shock wave, into your bloodstream (which can seriously aggravate or lead to diabetes if done too often), and what can’t be shoehorned in there gets converted nearly instantly into fat, which is exactly what you don’t want if you’re trying to lose weight. These ingredients massively boost the calorie count for a given portion size, and that, by the simple laws of mathematics, is setting you up for weight gain.

Say No to Oil!!

It’s a very similar story with oils, and this is true of all oils, including the ones touted as being more healthy, like olive oil and coconut oil. These substances do occur in Nature, but are almost always accompanied with large amounts of fiber, vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, and complex carbohydrates. Making these oils a top ingredient of many foods (fries and chips and “veggie patties” and many candies come to mind) crowds out the healthier ingredients’ percentage of the total and makes your whole meal unnaturally calorie-dense, leading to weight gain.

So, as you can see, it’s easy, darned easy, to eat your way into poorer health and serious weight gain on a vegan diet, and the big food companies are happy to sell you the stuff to help you along that path. What to do?

The essential concepts to understand are: 1) switch to food that is nutrient-dense instead of calorie-dense. That means leave out processed sugars and all oils; and 2) prepare your food at home from basic, natural ingredients, and don’t even buy the processed stuff. Yes, it might take a little more time, but in the long run you’ll look better, feel better, and actually be healthier – results that make that little daily sacrifice in time more than worth it!

Plant-Based Foods to Eat for Weight Loss

Since I’ve already mentioned what you don’t want in your vegan diet for healthy weight loss, let me tell you now what you do want:

• Plant-based proteins – tofu & soy milk (with caution and consciousness), tempeh, seitan, beans

• Whole grains – quinoa, brown rice, oats, whole grain bread

• Leafy greens – collard greens, chard, spinach, kale

• The fiber kings of the vegetable world – potatoes, carrots, brussells sprouts, broccoli, sweet potatoes

Fiber masters from planet fruit – pears, oranges, apples, berries of many kinds

• Vegetable fats – seeds, avocados, olives, nuts of every kind (These should be consumed very sparingly if you’re trying to lose weight; as nutrition expert Dr. John McDougall says, “The fat you eat is the fat you wear.”)

Some nutritionists advise vegans trying to lose weight to stack their plates high with vegetables first, before adding healthy vegan proteins, starches, and fats. They say your plate should be at least half-filled with veggies before any other ingredients come on board. That way, you have a kind of “automatic portion control” to make nutrient density higher and calorie density lower.

There are many other good vegan ingredients I could have specified, but this is an article, not an encyclopedia. It’s the principles that matter, and I hope I’ve showed you how to apply them so you can enjoy the best possible, healthiest vegan diet possible, while losing those pounds of fat. Enjoy your food and enjoy life!

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